Q. I am a new member of the LCMS (less than two years). My question is on the practice of making the sign of the cross on oneself during the course of the Divine Services, during the Sacrament of Communion, etc. It seems to me to be a great expression of love and respect to Christ our Lord. I am baffled because even though it is addressed in our hymnals, very few in the congregation actually do this. Is this simply left to an individual preference or should we all participate in practice? Could you also tell me the difference in the meaning of this practice between the LCMS and the Catholic Church?
A. Making the sign of the cross has a long tradition behind it, one that the Lutheran Church did not shy away from at the time of the Reformation. You are probably aware that in the Small Catechism Luther advises that we make the sign of the cross first thing in the morning. This practice is an excellent reminder of who we are: baptized children of God who have been redeemed by Christ the crucified.
Over the centuries the practice of making the sign of the cross fell into disuse among many Lutherans. While there are numerous factors that can be cited, probably the chief one is the fear that it is a "Catholic" thing. While the Lutheran Church does have serious disagreements with the Roman Catholic Church, it is an unfortunate thing that for many Lutherans in times past, the things that really divided us from the Roman Catholic Church had to do with external matters, like making the sign of the cross, kneeling for prayer, pastors wearing clerical collars, etc.
The practice of making the sign of the cross is, ultimately, up to the individual. C.S. Lewis once remarked that Christians shouldn't even notice whether other Christians do such things. If our attention is drawn to whether or not the person in the pew next to us is making the sign of the cross, or how he is folding his hands, etc, then our focus is on the wrong thing. So keep on making the sign of the cross. When you have the opportunity, you can certainly speak to others about the significance of this practice for you.
As for the matter of how to make the sign of the cross, there are different traditions. The oldest tradition is to bring together the thumb and first two fingers (three being the number of the Holy Trinity). As the Invocation is spoken, touch the forehead lightly, then move down to the middle of the chest. Then touch the right shoulder and finally the left shoulder. Or you can follow the western tradition and touch the left shoulder first, and then the right.